Threatened village has fascinating history

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 February, 2003, 12:00am

I write in support of Patrick Hase's plea for the preservation of Nga Tsin Wai village ('Developer must not be allowed to ruin old village', Sunday Morning Post, January 26) and endorse his statement regarding its historical importance.

Despite its present run-down condition and seeming insignificance, it was one of the major villages of the Kowloon area before 1898, when together with the rest of 'New Kowloon', it was included in the territory leased to Britain in that year.

Its importance derived from its long settlement and its political importance as the head of an alliance of local villages known as the 'League of Seven'.

Though not walled as such, all its houses faced inwards, presenting a resolute face to an uncertain world.

It was quite possibly the only Kowloon village with a moat, then used as a fishpond, with a drawbridge which was afterwards replaced by a causeway.

The main lineages which inhabited the village and owned the land around have an equally long history. Their descendants remain and possess family records.

Taken all in all, suitably restored and equipped, the village is well-placed to represent the heritage represented by Kowloon's long and interesting past, and to serve as a material focus and information centre for the education and benefit of future generations of Hong Kong citizens.

We are not here dealing with a remnant of colonial rule, but with the true stuff of Chinese history, with which the Kowloon story is so closely related and intertwined, from the last tragic days of the Song Dynasty in the 13th century to Chinese defensive measures during the Opium War of 1839-1842 and after (Kowloon City was walled in 1847), and the Taipings' attack and brief occupation of Kowloon City in the 1850s.

Forty years ago, I got to know two elders of the village well and spoke with them about its history. Born in the mid-1880s, they were clearly proud of its record of long settlement through changing times.

Discounting some of the hyperbole and embellishments that had accrued over generations, there was yet much of real interest and historical value in their accounts. They included some good tales.

The one I like most is how the brow of the Queen of Heaven's image in the Tin Hau Temple inside the village glistened through her exertions to aid the imperial authorities in recovering Kowloon City from the rebels.

We are the richer for Nga Tsin Wai's survival against the odds and for its people's pride in themselves and in their old home.

The SAR government should not let slip this last opportunity to do something really significant for our local and national heritage by preserving the village and putting it to good use, for the long-term advantage of the community of Hong Kong and of Chinese people everywhere, not least among them those visitors from the mainland who now come to Hong Kong in ever-increasing numbers.


Sydney, Australia